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Deborah Baker Education. (2011) Deborah Baker ('The Convert A Tale of Exile and Extremism.')

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TOPIC FREQUENCY

Pakistan 19, Us 8, Deborah 5, Islam 5, America 5, New York 3, Margaret Markus 3, Westchester 3, New York City 3, India 3, Minnesota 3, Deborah Baker 2, Maryann 2, Fda 2, Gandhi 2, Israel 2, Judaism 2, Debra 1, Stapp 1, Marty 1,
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  CSPAN    Book TV    Deborah Baker  Education.  (2011) Deborah Baker  
   ('The Convert A Tale of Exile and Extremism.')  

    July 17, 2011
    2:00 - 3:00pm EDT  

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room so that the home viewingd e audience can hear question.can a to check the schedule of when this program will air, go to wwl taught book tv dot court. please welcome moderator andd e author. author [applause] [applause]cov >> did morning it's wonderful to be here, and thank you for joining us. i drove here from cleveland orc and the book review editor. .. i was delighted to be occupied with a complex object and engaging biographer. deborah baker seems allergic to the facile answer and drawn to flags that are complicated and eliciting more questions than
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answers. so if that is your cup of tea, you walked into the great room. because margaret marcus, who became mary and jamaal is so >> i thought the respectful and interesting thing to do was begin with some of her words, so we're going to ask deborah baker to read for us. >> hi, thank you all for coming. it's great to be in chicago. i love the city so much, and especially on such a beautiful day. just a brief thing before i read from this -- this is a letter that maryann wrote to her parents on board this ship, a brief crater taking her from new york to pakistan, and from there she moved to lahor. this was the first of the
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letters i found at the new york public library, which was my introduction to margaret markus. may 1962, the torch. this was posted from egypt. after all our good-byes after you, mother, betty, and walter walked down the gangplank and drove off, i was overcome with dread. i stood at the deck rail for a long time stricken. the excitement. weeks leading to departure gone. when it pulled up, the lights of the city dimmed, it was a black ocean swallowing everything i had ever known. it took some time and many prayers before my fear began to subside. she goes on to tell her parents about the various odd characters
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on board, and, you know, there's a captain and his greek crew who are very suspicious of her -- this journey that she was making to pakistan. mother, you imagined i was going to need my nice silk dress for dining and dancing on board. i was happy to leave that dress behind with betty, her sister, along with my corset, and my high hills i gave to the colored lady. dressed now in my ankle length skirt and long sleeved blouse, i certainly see that i got an unlikely figure. anyone might ask why would a western woman insist on dressing in such a manner? honestly, i don't blame them. the captain tells me he's just returned from turkey. despite the best efforts to
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persecute muslims, it seems that the captain found no religious fanatics. i asked what he meant. muslims who refuse to eat pork for fear of hell and those who avoid non-muslims like the plague. he'd like to see the religion eradicated. while they are westernized, he assured me the rest of turkey was as reactionary as ever. a young greek sailor chimed in said you'll see for yourself the filth and poverty when you get there. >> so there you have it. you have a 27-year-old woman growing up on long island throwing it all off to get on this ship and join a foster father she's never meant in her pursuit of holiness and longing for community, and yesterday,
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yuria was speaking about his own ancestor who was a healer in 19th century mexico, and he spoke of the catastrophe of holiness, and that phrase stuck to my ribs because of the difficulty of someone who moves against what they've been given in their religious pursuit can you talk to us a little, deborah, about what grabbed you in the letters with this voice with this profoundly unorthodox quest? >> well, you know, you've heard a little bit of her voice, and i just was so struck by the sharpness and the clarity and the sort of enthusiasm of it. it was like, you know, reading some person who's like going to europe for the first time and everything's new, and she wants
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to write down absolutely everything she sees and convey the excitement of the journey to her parents, and in the back of my mind i'm reading the letters with great excitement, this was like in the spring of 2007 when i first sort of stumbled upon them completely by chance. i thought this is not going to end well, you know? you just have the sense that this woman has no idea what she's doing sailing off the wild blue beyonder. you know like the greek shipmate, you know, you'll see for yourself, that is in the back of my mind, but i can't tear myself away from the letters. i involve the reader in this, this discovery, and, you know, this sense of, you know, well, what's going to happen next? >> so we have a thorny detective question in this woman, and one of the things i was thinking about as i read was an
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observation martin marty made. he's a lutheran theologian i admire. one can't have a conversation with anyone unless one knows the places from which they view the world, and as a journalist i thought, bingo. you know, what have i been doing as an interviewer? that's part of the homework to figure out the vantage point one brings of their view of the world. can you talk, deborah, a little bit about the foundational vantage points of marryann and also your own? >> sure. well, maryann grew up peggy markus in westchester, new york, and sort of a bedroom community of new york city. heifer parents were secular jews but celebrated christmas and easter. she loved christmas music, loved
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classical music, easter baskets, and she didn't understand she was a jew until she was sort of in school and she began the playground taunts from catholic school children. they threw rocks at her, called her chris killer and -- christ killer, and she began what is this judaism, and so her parents sent her to hebrew school, and she was fascinated by the stories, the stories of her ancestors living in, you know, these biblical lands, and, you know, it made them seem so much more exciting than the jews that she was growing up around. you know, she was shunned by the orthodox jews in her immediate community because she lived in a household and was surrounded by tribal divisions, but in bible school she was looking at the
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jews and arabing living side by side harmoniously and it seems very simple, desert tribal community, very -- and it excited her imagination, and she was born in 1934 so she came of age during the second second world war. she hit adolescence at that moment when, you know, everyone was learning about what had happened, you know, in eastern europe to the jews, and, you know, this was -- she was a kind of child who read the papers religiously every day, and there was a sense that something was going on, but in one believed it. when the photographs were published, her parents tried to hide it because she was a child constantly questioning why is this and that. her parents didn't know how to answer these questions, so, you know, she was completely traumatized by that, and then,
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you know, the jews were all the sudden going to, you know, to start this state of israel, she was very excited, initially very excited thinking oh, the jews are going to reconnect with our roots and learn how to be real jews again. that was the word she used, and the arabs are going to protect us from the horrible christians, and, you know, that was -- and then when she saw that was not how the state of israel was unfolding, that was sort of the beginning of her move to her radicalization. her, you know, in sympathy she moved towards the arabs. she always sort of had been fascinated by arab poetry and arab music, and at least from the age of 10 on, she just sort of got drawn further and further, and her parents said, oh, no, the arabs are killing
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the jews. they are dirty low people, and she would sort of want to believe that and she liked to paint. she destroyed her drawings, but she wanted to prove to her parents they were prejudice. she knew it was bad to be prejudice against black people so she felt like, you know, she wanted to argue her parents, you know, that the arabs are a great people, you know, and so there was this tension in the household. you know, her at the center of her life and adolescence. that's her framework where she was coming out of. as far as my framework i'm not very interested in because i'm a biographer, and you stay behind the curtain, but my framework was, you know, i discovered these letters, i had written mostly about obscure american poets before that. i had never wrote about an
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islamic ideolog which is what she eventually came, and, you know, i was completely obsessed with them and really no one seemed to really understand the nature of my obsession, so i had to keep wondering well, what is it? why is it these letters are speaking so much to me? i'd read her books. she later became the voice of islam's argument with the west so, you know, she was very influential and a big name in the islamic world as was her adopted father, so i felt like these issues, you know, and i was, you know, writing and researching this book in the midst, you know, the war on terror, and also in new york city where, you know, i had, you know -- you know, witnessed the 9/11 attacks, you know in 2001, so i was torn -- the idea of objectivity really never entered
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into it because on the one hand i had been traumatized deeply and personally effected by the 9/11 attacks, but on the other hand, i've seen this country that i loved, you know, become this sort of, you know, you know, betray its most sort of sacred laws in pursuit of, you know, a war against, you know, muslim people that really had nothing to do with the attacks, so i was -- you know, the deeper i got into her life and into this story, the more it became apparent there were these elephants in the room i just couldn't pretend with respect there. those are the long answers to your questions. >> it's a great answer, and it seems that both for you and for margaret markus, the book is an indispensable key to the formation of one's view of the world in the sense that for little margaret, peggy, the road
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to mecca, a book by a jew who converted, a foundational document for her. >> yeah. >> can you talk just briefly about that and that particular book? >> yeah, this was a book called "the road to mecca". it's a memoir by an austrian jew who was a journalist who went to cover north africa and the middle east and became friend alen traveled a lot in the desert with a trusted guide, and, you know, just wrote this very passionate wonderful book about arabia, and became friends with king saud and later on married and moved to pakistan and became pakistan's ambassador to america, but mary's parents
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refused to let her take the book home. she went to the library after school and read it a dozen times, and i later met the son who teached in new york city and says he gets so many letters from people looking to him for guidance because they've read his father's book, so that was her -- that was one -- but she also listened to a great egyptian singer. she would play her records at top volume with all the windows of her parents' apartment open so she could watch people's expressions in the intawsh -- suburban law below. she is an uncanny fascination and obsession with arab culture, you know, middle eastern culture. >> so debra paint -- debra is painting this picture
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and is misfit to the place and time she finds herself to such a painful degree that she herself describes a friendless isolated environment in her parents' home. she's thrown out of two colleges. we're not quite sure why. she is stuck and up happy, and -- unhappy, and through the letters and through deborah's writings become anxious of what comes of this child who launched herself in such an unorthodox direction on this greek freighter. one of the confounding parts is deborah treats us as grownups and lets us experience her
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difficulty in trying to discern this woman, and tells us that these letters aren't straight stenography, that deborah herself has made them more concise, so then there's a hole blown into the book. what is to be made of this document that isn't quite what we would assume as we began. i'd like you to try to tell us why you made the choice to reconstitute the letters. >> uh-huh, uh-huh. well, first of all, the book is divided into three parts. the first part is called the marble library, that's where i found the letters. it tells the story of the first 24 letters, her first 18 months in pakistan, began on the greek ship and sort of ended with this
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letter that all the sud p is being written from a insane asylum. i thought, oh, my god, i've not been thinking twice, just going down the garden path with her and not thinking at all whether or not she's writing the letters and is unreliable or not. the next letter said, you know, well, now i guess i have to tell you what really happened to me when i got to pakistan. this is letters to her parents. i thought, she's going to start at the beginning and start over again. i said that's not really where the story starts. what happened when she really got to pakistan, and i don't know the term under which this new letter was written, and i go back to her childhood. that's the second part of the book, and the third part picks up where the first part ends with her being in this insane
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asylum and then, you know, telling what really happened, and the third part is also when i decide that all the answers to all these questions that i've been, you know, feeding the reader and asking myself in the course of this narrative cannot be answered by me just digging deeper and deeper into the library, but i have to go to pakistan, and one element of the story that i haven't really discussed so much is the man that invited her to come live with him and his family in pakistan, and this man is like what gandhi was to india, this man was to pakistan. that's another question at the heart of the book. why did this incredibly powerful leader invite a jewish girl he had been corresponding with for a year to live with him as his daughter? he already had nine children, but, you know, he was inviting another woman to his house in
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pack stapp. you know, it's one thing to go back and forth as to who she is, but you need the historical context. where was pakistan at that time? in some ways this beak is also a book about america and pakistan, america and islam, so, you know, i don't want to sort of lose sight of those aspects of the book in, you know, in the fine grain because she is a vehicle for a lot of these sort of meditations, but as to the question of what i decided to do with her letters. i felt it was important for -- to have her as a vehicle for the reader to experience her letters, you know, with immediacy in her own words rather than me paraphrasing them or, you know, saying, you know,
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well, she says that she graduated from high school in 1953, but actually it was 1952. i find that correcting voice as a biographer is very distancing, and i wanted the readers to feel about her the way i felt about her when i first started reading the letters, to be completely sucked into her world, and, you know, if i, you know, had said at the outset that, you know, that she was institutionalized, then you know people will just say she's crazy and not have to wrestle with the questions her books and letters raise to her parents, and because her letters were so long, you know, like ten single space typed pages with no typos or anything and never an ungraygrammatical sentence. they were the cleanest sentences. you can conceive of -- you know, i wanted to capture her voice,
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but i didn't want the reader to have to read ten single size spaces so i con pressed them a lot, and i, you know, i want -- i sort of condensed them and took the essence of them, but i didn't make anything up. you know, a biographer par phrases and tries to papture the -- capture the voice of the writer, but you're supposed to neutralize it. i wanted to keep the punchiness of her voice. i do that. some people at the end of the book may feel like, okay, that was an okay thing to do, other people can feel i was misleading, but i wanted that sort of narrative at the outset. >> and did you hit upon the solution after she gave you explicit permission to do this? >> no, no, i wrote the whole book before i asked her
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permission. luckily, she said yes. [laughter] that was another revelation when i started the book, when i started writing it and thinking about how it was going to up fold when i thought i could stay in the library and write it, it never occurred to me should be still be alive. i also with hold that information from the reader. it's not until i got to this part of the archive where she had been a painter and there was a box of paintings from pakistan that she sent because she was not supposed to paint. painting it considered forbidden in islam or at least that variety of islam, and she so secretly sent these paintings back to the new york public library and the last painting in the last box of her portfolio was dated september 11th, 2001. i thought, oh, if she was alive on september 11, maybe she's alive in 2007.
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i wrote to her, and she wrote back, and so that's when i realized i had to go to pakistan. >> and it's in a new terrain as a biographer with a living subject and one can't read the convert without the art. there's a beautiful passage in here i wanted to share with you about that question, and this is in deborah's voice. ano , ma'am anymorety is my e vocation. i inhabit the lives of my subjects. i wear them like a suit of out of date clothes telling their stories, interpreting their dreams, mimicking their voices as i type. i find myself most sus sent l to those tuned to an impossible pitch, poets and wild-eyed visionaries who live their lives
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close to the bone. hanting archives, reading letters composed in agony and journals thick of unspeakable thoughts. i found the intermost chambers of unquiet souls, unearths dramas no one would ever think to make up. i think that's gorgeous, and i also think that's brave, and have you an up sight as to why your body of work calls you to these kinds of voices? >> well, it's a vicarious existence. some people read about celebrities, and i read about poets and misfits of various stripes, and i do feel that, you know, they, you know, by getting close to them and they're trying to vibrate close to god that that's my way of trying to see what it feels like, and, of
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course, then you have to, you know, if you're a proper biographer, you have to sort of -- or if you live it's a blind spot that that person has or they become a little cramped after awhile and you get exas beer rated. -- exasperated. you become this person and realize, you know, that the break is happening. it's like a relationship falling apart, but you're not supposed to express those exaspirations and just say -- be neutral and put it in historical context and all that stuff. that's important, but this book i felt needed, you know, something different as a way of, you know, framing the story. >> i think that your crankiness at times gives the reader permission to be a bit annoyed,
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and my annoyance came in the sense that she is a exceptionally student of criticism. she's spot on in places. there's a reason that her propaganda and critique moved people, and it isn't just di actism, but what i thought about was the puzzle of her life is she got on that freighter before the second wave of feminism hit the united states, and that powerful critique of the way religion and the way societies put the lives together of half their populations seem to be ab sent, in fact, antagonism with the way she came to view the
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world in her disgust for sexuality, for women who -- she was karat call of jackie o'nays sis' tour -- >> her sleeveless silk shirts. >> she was an unmarried woman which was up -- intolerable to her adoptive father cried out for it. did you have an annoyance with her? >> i thought she is embracing this with huge excitement. you know, she sent this picture to her parents soon after she arrived like, you know, you'll never recognize he as the same old peggy. look at me now. these are the clothes i'll wear for the rest of my life. i thought, yet how can you
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recognize anybody? why do you have your picture taken if you're not going to show your face. that stopped me in my tracks, but thinking about it you thought she grew up in westchester. you know, she watched her sister, cousins getting married. the idea of marriage she was scared of. she was scared of boys. you know, but she wanted those things in a peculiar way, and, you know, if only just to be like well adjusted like her sisters so, you know, so she was torn, but she had no facility with boys, so in a way it was perfect. also she wasn't beautiful like her sisters. she was, you know, rather ungainly and she admitted she had absolutely no charm whatsoever. you know, so -- and she was very aware of her clumsiness and really what did her future hold for her in america? ewe know, and -- you know, and so it made sense
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that she would search out a more traditional culture where it really didn't matter where you looked like, where women, you know, had a specific role to play, but on the other hand, she would go to pakistan and automatically assumed that because she was writing all these articles and being published in the muslim press and because she was corresponding with the egyptian prison and, you know, the sons-in-law living in exile in switzerland, you know, she was the voice that had to be reckoned with, the voice of authority even though she didn't speak arabic. she never read the book in the holy language, but she arrived with a sense of her own importance which i refer to it as an american disease where you arrive into another country and
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tell them how to be good muslims. the flipside of that which is why i was interested in what did he want from her? did he want her for a proxy? was he going to marry her? what did his wife think? what did his children think? what were his intentions toward her? did he want her to translate his books? there's all these questions how -- when she arrived in pakistan, you know, she immediately started writing a column. she was interviewed. she was profiled. it was like a sensation. you know, here's this westerner who's given up everything to come out of this sense of faith to live with us and tell us we're sue superior to the west and all that going op. it was another sort of question series of questions i had to answer.
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as far as feminism, you know, she was writing books in the early 60s throughout the 70s to the mid-80s and she would write to her mother asking to send her this book and that book. she was interested in the women's movement, and, of course, she turned around and started publishing books denouncing women's liberation as, you know, the final -- the thing that's going to lead to the end of western civilization. one also believed that the more freedoms women get, you know, is i want matily linked and it was soon to collapse when women were unleashed into the world and on men so that became, you know, another whole line of argument she could make against the west was this, you know, real fillish
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laughly type attack on women's liberation. >> and help us think about what he wanted from her. >> well, that's, you know, one of the sort of things that i withhold from the book. i won't say everything, but basically his ideas grew out of the india's, you know, trying to get rid of the british empire, and he was born in 1901. for awhile there was a kind of muslim, indue unity under gandhi and his movement, but he gradually moved away from that, and he began to articulate, and he was really one of the first people to articulate this idea of an us lamic state based entirely on the law which we hear a lot about now with egypt and the muslim brotherhood and
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deeply influenced by his writings on his idea of an islamic institution. also one who translated the work into persian for iran, so he was a voice of huge authority in this not only in his part of the world, but also in the middle east, and, you know, he was going to saudi arabia. he was sub subsidizing and patronizing the islam, the political party founded in india, the first islamic party and continues to be a force in pakistan. there's a lot of little offshoots, but basically, these are the parties through which the jihads are organized and sent off to fight either in the northwest territories or in
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afghanistan, so there's sort of the mother of jihad. he wrote sort of the first book on global jihad. he was the first to articulate what the aims of global jihad was, and that was also interesting to me because there have been many, many books about him and his writings and biographies, but none of them, none of them mentioned margaret markus and mary. none of them talk about him as a father or husband or brother or a son, and the letters were all about his household and the way it was run and in that there seems to be a benefit instead of looking at this man as a powerful islamic political leader was to look at the politics of his household which were much more complicated and unexpected than you would assume, you know, given his
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writings, you know, she would be upset because his wife wasn't always in strict -- why didn't you, you know, wear your, you know, vail when you went out to meet your brother-in-law. she said, oh, you know, doesn't your husband get upset at that? she said, oh, you know, my husband is such a saint and has so much patience for me. she got away with things that he was telling every islamic to do, but his own wife he couldn't make live up to the idea. >> the contradictions are manifest in the lives here, but also our own lives, and that's one of the nice mirroring as pecks of the -- aspects of the book is it wedges us into looking at that and ourselves in a new wayment i think that your comments also
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lead beautifully to the other passage we were speaking about reading today. >> oh, that was the -- >> the family life. >> oh, right. okay so this is just one -- this is again also in july 1962 when she's still getting used to pakistan and the household. your exhausted description of mother's birthday dipper at the fancy westchester restaurant was up bearable to read. i'm still unaccustomed to this diet, and hearing your foods is a tourment. i have visions of steak and pot roast and meat loaf with mashed potatoes finished off by a piece of cheesecake. they talk about these dishes an as honored guest.
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on the yearly visit he is expected to relish the site of an entire roast cam mel. the hump is an appetizer, and he's presented with a platter of testy calls and eyeballs. i dream of sarah lee. >> let's take a moment and see what questions are arising for the audience. >> i'm curious to know how the process of researching it and writing it and perhaps meeting her possibly changed your perceptions of people who convert, who or go against the tide, against values held by mare family or community. i don't know if you had any
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feelings about that before hand that maybe attracted you to this sort of subject, but i was just wondering how you went after it. >> well, it wasn't, you know, until i began like, you know, thinking deeply about, you know, why this story resinates with me. i began looking at my own life and the whole idea of conversion i had never given much thought to. eventually, by the way, margaret's parents sort of -- they didn't convert, but they left judaism and became unitarians. they didn't make a big fuss about it or anything. they liked of the community of people and into assimilating and becoming more american, and it didn't seem like a big deal for them. you know, their daughter was already going to the unitarian church, but then the more i thought about it, the more -- i was raised catholic by my mother, and, you know, i'd heard
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my father had converted to con thole schism before he married my mother. he wanted a big church wedding and i got up the next morning and said we're going to church. he goes we went to church yesterday. he became obsessed with learning all the church history and doctrine and everything, and then all the sudden, you know, he wasn't. he was wasn't so keen on it anymore. he converted, but then he became hugely anti-catholic. by the time i came along and my siblings came along, going to church was a loaded fought thing. there's like my father in a funk in the back, and my mother dressed us up and put hats on, and then we got home for dinner, you know, he launched into his ser mop about the evils of the catholic church and all that stuff so, you know, i was like on the one hand i was like, you know, praying to jesus and
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looking at him, you know, with adoring and on the other hand i got this stuff about the pope. i realized, you know, so here's this argument, and also you see it in our culture now, this sense of secular humanism, agnosticism, you know, how closed minded it can be to, you know, that, you know, the religion is always, you know, posed in terms of fanatics or fundamentalists or, you know, that's how we read about, you know, the, you know, brainwashing of children and things like that. it's never, you know, it's rarely seen as a positive thing or as a power for good. you know, it's always often framed as this kind of evil fanatical thing whether they're right winged -- as a result my
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siblings, i have a brother i adore who is an evangelical christian and they believe in creationism. i have another who is a page pagan. there's a desire for something, but that secularism doesn't have all the answers for, especially for children i think. >> could you use the microphone, please? thank you. >> deborah, i haven't read your other books. what other line zealots of massive contradictions have you been interested in, and have you thought of doing a book that groups many of these together to see what the pattern is? >> well, i think, you know, people are so unpredictable it's reallyhearted to imagine there's any consistent pattern, but i
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find that i'm drawn to people who are good with words, you know, because i feel like that gives me access to them in a way, you know, so there have been mostly, you know, poets, actually three poets that i've written about before i got to her, and, you know, you get, you get insight, you know, directly into their souls through their writings, and really that's what drew me to them, you know, more than the specificities of their religious beliefs which were often quite unpredictable. >> i have a question about this person that she lived with in pakistan. how was the initial meeting between them? he seemed to influential. was her family that influential that they come bined and said, oh, you're going to live with him. >> no, they had been corresponding for a year before she decided to go, and i think,
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you know, before she left, she decided to go to leave america to go into exile when her parents were off on holiday in the caribbean, and i think she had a sense of how, you know, that she had been mired and was sort of stuck in this place, you know, between her adolescence and adulthood and had not been able to move forward in her life. she said she was kicked out of college, had no way of making a living, and he had been inviting her for over a year to come live with him. they had been corresponding. she asked questions, he gave answers, she wrote essays, he sent her essays. it was a real meeting of minds which, i mean, the fact she was a woman, the fact she was raised jew, you know, just did not seem to bother him at all. she had -- so he had this fantasy of her, and he had this
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fantasy of him, and, you know, when she arrived, you know, it's apparent they were both deeply disappointed in each other. she felt he was disappointed in her because she is wasn't what he imagined an american to look like. she was not blond tall or slim. she looked not too much different from his own daughters, you know? >> thank you so much for joining us today. >> there's one more question. >> i think -- >> [inaudible] >> oh, okay. >> it's been lovely. thank you for your patience listening. [applause]
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>> the panic virus is a book that i began working on because of the reason that very much relates to what we're talking about today. a little over three years ago, which was before i had a child, i started noticing that in conversations with my friends when the issue of childhood vaccines, vaccine safety and advocacy started coming up, the answers i would get to questions about how people went about making these decisions were answers very much in the language of feelings or intuition. it feels to me like children receive too many vaccines today. it makes sense to me that the number of antigens in vaccines overwhelm developing immune systems. the reason i found that
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interesting was because that was very ant thet call to the approach and language my peers used when it came to other topics where there was an intersection between science and public policy. for instance, global warming. if we had a conversation and someone said, well, we had three feet of snow last year: it just doesn't feel to me like we could be going through global warming or a conversation involving evolution where someone said it doesn't seem right to me that we could be from apes. those attitudes that the same group of peers were incredibly dismissive of and very much looked down their nose towards, you know, these stupid people who don't understand or accept the science involving the other topics, and what was interesting to me was not that they were wrong in their opinion because
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actually i didn't know at the time whether vaccines seeps were or were not connected in a way to developmental disorders like autism, but this is how they went about making those decisions so i naively started working on this project thinking that it would be an interesting, maybe magazine story looking at how we decide what counts as truths, some of the issues that get raised and here i am three years later. no, i couldn't interest any magazine in it, and i think one of the oddities and theories of book publishing, and i had this experience before. it can be hard to convince someone to let you write a 5,000-word magazine story, but you can convince someone to allow you to write a 10-,000 page book [laughter] that's what happened here which is maybe why the book industry
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is in so much trouble. [laughter] so when i began working on this as a book, one of the my thoughts was well, most of the books out there on this topic are written from someone who came into it with already in one camp or the other believing one was injured and vaccines were dangerous or someone involved in the medical community. i thought, well, i'll write a book from the perspective of someone not coming to this from one side or the other and people can read this and say, oh, that's interesting and something to trust, and that is not the case. the people who have disagreed with my conclusions definitely have not viewed this as an interesting book that someone happened to write who did not come at this with a preconceived notion. i learn daily about my ties to pharmaceutical companies -- [laughter] and big business and how i'm in
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their pay. if there are pharmaceutical companies reps out there, i'll give you by bank account routeing number. i'll be happy to take your money. the book is already out. i figure if i'm blamed of it, i might as well see some of the benefits from that. [laughter] i really have been shocked and been somewhat eye opens as to how much a topic of which i think there really is not a lot of continued debate, how much debate there is in both the political and public realm and what the implications of that are, and there's very severe implications. ten children died of whooping cough last year. some too young to be vaccinated. there's a measles outbreak in minnesota that started with a deliberately unvaccinated child returned to the country with measles and now there's over a dozen hospitalizations incoming
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seven children too young to be vaccinated. this is an issue only to come up more often, and i will -- i'll leave off there and i'm sure we'll have an interesting conversation. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. >> carl elliot, what is your book about? >> it's about the way that medicine has changed as it's been transformed from the profession. traditional medicine has been largely a self-policed owner-based profession, and over the past 30 years or so, it has be taken over by a range of market-based forces with the pharmaceutical industry, clip call trial industry, a whole
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range of profit-based businesses which because of the fact that med sip's traditional -- medicine's traditionally self-regulated operate without a lot of oversight. >> okay. what are the root causes of that? >> of the transformation? well, a lot of things. part what i'm i'm interested in is the pharmaceutical industry as a huge force beginning largely in the 1990s. that was the period in which the sort of age of blockbuster drugs began so the drug companies started really hitting for the fences looking for drugs to market to as many people as possible usually for mild croppic illnesses -- chronic illnesses. when the pharmaceutical industry started to become so enormously powerful, it's influence over
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medicine began to grow much stronger so you had the emergence of clinical trial industry, research industry, medical education industry, oversight, private research oversight businesses for private institutions, and i think a lot of people don't realize exactly how profitable the pharmaceutical industry has been over the past 20 or 30 years, and it's been tremendous. >> what's your experience with that transformation in the role of the pharmaceutical industry currently as a doctor? >> i don't practice medicine. i originally trained in medicine, went from medicine to graduate school so for the last 20 years or so, i've been teaching medical ethics. the root of the book begins with
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a phone call i got when i was at university of minnesota from a local psychiatrist who wanted to sit in on a medical ethics course he was titching and -- i was teaching and explained he was being dismied by the state -- police plinked by the state board -- disciplined by the state board. he had to take a study in my course. not knowing any better, i said sure and let him. it went fine. a few years later, a contract research business opened up in the twin cities where i live, a for-profit clinical trial site, and i had an interest in these and started doing some digging and looked to see who the researchers were doing clinical
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trials for them, and i saw this guy from my class was one of the researchers. i started to think i wonder exactly what he did to be disciplined by having to take my class, and it turned out his license was suspended for two years because he was responsible for the deaths and injuries of 46 different patients, a number of whom committed suicide and 17 of whom were in research studies that he had done largely, seriously mentally ill with chronic skits phren ya -- skits schizophrenia. they were in studies they were not eligible and keeping them in the studies even after they started to deteriorate. one of them actually had committed suicide in our teaching halls at the university of minnesota, and what struck me
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about that is that his disciplinary file was not hard to find. i could find it, you know, in minutes. put his name in a google search, all his problems came up the first hit, and yet beside the fact he had been judged responsible for the deaths and injuries of 46 patients, he's still allowedded to do trials. the fda had not sanctioned him, and the pharmaceutical industry was still willing to hire them. in fact, he's still working for a pharmaceutical industry now, and this sort of shocked me a researcher this dangerous and this bad was still allowed to do clinical trials and it pointed to me just how weak our oversight system is. >> in your research, how often did you find that was the case that researchers who violated ethics laws were allowed to continue conducting research that was for a privately
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contracted institution versus on a university campus? >> nobody really knows. that's the difficulty because there's no one keeping up with this information. the reason he was able to do this is simply that nobody was watching and still nobody is watching. you know, you have state licensing boards, but they are not responsible for clip call research. you have local institutional review boards. these are the ethics committees that are supposed to overseeing clinical research, but now these are largely private, for-profit boards paid for by the sponsors of the research, and if they don't like the answer they get, if one ethics board tells them this is unethical research, they can certainly go to another one and another and another until they get the answer they want. the fda which is supposed to be no , nominally interested in
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protecting subjects of the research only inspects 1% of trial sites so 99% of trial sites go on uninspected. i can't answer that question. nobody can because nobody's watching. >> what would your recommendations be to improve the medical industry and particularly that process? >> well, there needs to be a different system of oversight in clinical trials. it's crazy to have the main oversight bodies being paid by the sponsors of the study that they're supposed to be regulating. i mean, that's just recipe for the kinds of problems that we see. i would say that we need to take drug testing out of the hands of the producers of the drug. i mean, why should the pharmaceutical industry be responsible for testing their own drugs and then publishing the research? they have a financial incentive
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to come up with results that are positive for their products, and, you know, as long as testing process is in their hands, that, you know, that incentive is always going to be there. i'm even in favor of taking drug testing out of their hands and putting it in the hands of an independent drug testing body. >> thank you. >> get the booktv schedule e-mailed to you. use our website, booktv.org, and press the alert button or text the word "book" to 99702. standard message and data rates apply. >> up next from the 2011 language los angeles times festival of books calls obama, two years